Carbon footprint and energy use of food waste management options for fresh fruit and vegetables from supermarkets

Waste Manag. 2017 Feb;60:786-799. doi: 10.1016/j.wasman.2017.01.008. Epub 2017 Jan 11.

Abstract

Food waste is a problem with economic, environmental and social implications, making it both important and complex. Previous studies have addressed food waste management options at the less prioritised end of the waste hierarchy, but information on more prioritised levels is also needed when selecting the best available waste management options. Investigating the global warming potential and primary energy use of different waste management options offers a limited perspective, but is still important for validating impacts from the waste hierarchy in a local context. This study compared the effect on greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy use of different food waste management scenarios in the city of Växjö, Sweden. A life cycle assessment was performed for four waste management scenarios (incineration, anaerobic digestion, conversion and donation), using five food products (bananas, tomatoes, apples, oranges and sweet peppers) from the fresh fruit and vegetables department in two supermarkets as examples when treated as individual waste streams. For all five waste streams, the established waste hierarchy was a useful tool for prioritising the various options, since the re-use options (conversion and donation) reduced the greenhouse gas emissions and the primary energy use to a significantly higher degree than the energy recovery options (incineration and anaerobic digestion). The substitution of other products and services had a major impact on the results in all scenarios. Re-use scenarios where food was replaced therefore had much higher potential to reduce environmental impact than the energy recovery scenarios where fossil fuel was replaced. This is due to the high level of resources needed to produce food compared with production of fossil fuels, but also to fresh fruit and vegetables having a high water content, making them inefficient as energy carriers. Waste valorisation measures should therefore focus on directing each type of food to the waste management system that can substitute the most resource-demanding products or services, even when the whole waste flow cannot be treated with the same method.

Keywords: Anaerobic digestion; Chutney; Conversion; Donation; Food waste valorisation; Greenhouse gas emissions; Incineration.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Footprint*
  • Food*
  • Fruit*
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Incineration
  • Sweden
  • Vegetables*
  • Waste Management / methods*